The 1928 Novel Decision

In 1928, the same jury from the year before convened and unanimously nominated Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey for the Pulitzer Prize. It was, however, a novel set in Peru, about the people of Peru several centuries before, and one of the jury members even stated that “it is a mere subterfuge to say that it has anything to do with the highest standards of American manners or manhood.” The Pulitzer Prize Committee, however, perhaps encouraged by the popular public opinion of Wilder’s novel, awarded him the Pulitzer Prize for Novel in 1928. Thornton Wilder was, at the time, still a prep school teacher, who had published only one other book. But after his success with The Bridge of San Luis Rey, he would begin writing full time, and go on to win the Pulitzer Prize two times in the Drama category, for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. In the aftermath of the 1928 Novel decision, the wording of the award’s terms were once again changed, this time to something that might actually have pleased Sinclair Lewis. The phrase “highest standards of American manners and manhood” was dropped, and the subsequent prizes were to be awarded for “the American novel, published during the year, preferably one which shall best present the whole atmosphere of American life.”

Currently reading: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin

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